Another season without pro baseball
It’s Summer 19 without pro baseball in St. Catharines and even the biggest supporters of the St. Catharines Stompers and St. Catharines Blue Jays must admit it feels like a lifetime ago when Community Park was home to the New York-Penn League affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays.
The Stompers set sail for Queen’s, N.Y., for the 2000 season after local ownership sold the team to the New York Mets.
When St. Catharines lost the team, it was the final franchise within a quick drive to pull up stakes and leave for south of the border and greener pastures, both on the field and at the box office.
Before that, local ball fans were spoiled with the Stompers, Welland Pirates (1989-94), Hamilton Redbirds (1988-92) and, for those willing take a quick trip across the border, a franchise in Niagara Falls, N.Y from 1989-93. Jamestown, always a pillar of the NYP, hung in a while longer but finally pulled up stakes in 2014 after 67 seasons in the league.
The closest franchise now is located in Batavia, N.Y., a 108-kilometre trek from Niagara and well worth just more than an hour in the car.
Longtime fans might have a tough time recognizing some of the cities and franchises.
The league now includes 14 teams from eight different states. In addition to New York and Pennsylvania the NYPL also has clubs in Maryland, Massachusetts, Ohio, Vermont, West Virginia, and Connecticut.
The McNamara Division consists of the Aberdeen IronBirds (Baltimore), Brooklyn Cyclones (Mets), Hudson Valley Renegades (Tampa Bay) and Staten Island Yankees (Yankees).
The Auburn Doubledays (Washington), Batavia Muckdogs (Miami) and Mahoning Valley Scrappers (Cleveland), State College Spikes (St. Louis), West Virginia Black Bears (Pittsburgh) and Williamsport Crosscutters (Philadelphia) comprise the Pinckney Division.
The Stedler Division, the old home of the Stompers, now features the Connecticut Tigers (Detroit), Lowell Spinners (Boston), Tri-City Valley Cats (Houston) and the Vermont Lake Monsters (Oakland).
That’s quite a change in less than 20 years.
Another big difference has been the interest in the league.
As franchises moved south, bigger and newer parks were built and fans flocked through the gates.
While the Stompers maintained about 1,500 paid fans per game got them to the break-even point financially, those numbers pale in comparison to some of the recent attendance figures of many of the franchises.
The Cyclones led the NYP last year with an average of over 5,100 fans per game. Tri-City (4,083), Hudson Valley (3,988), Aberdeen (3,964) and Lowell (3,516) round out the top five.
At the other end of the scale, the Batavia franchise, which has been rumoured to be on the move for a couple of years now, but is back for 2018 at least, averaged only 806 fans per game. That certainly is a red flag, but the overall average for 14 teams was almost 3,800 fans per game.
Impressive numbers to be sure and a lesson for all those franchises that left due to a lack of interest in their community: Build it, and they will come. Don’t build it, and they won’t come.
And as usual, there are a few familiar names among the coaching and managing ranks.
Former Toronto Blue Jays catcher Pat Borders is back as manager at Williamsport while Ex-Montreal Expos speedster and Hall-of-Famer Tim Raines is the hitting coach for Aberdeen.
The 2018 season begins Friday.
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